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Reform Rabbis Protest Cuts to Outreach

Allan C. Brownfeld, Editor
Special Interest Report
January-February 2003

The Union of American Hebrew Congregation (UAHC) announced in December that it would eliminate the part-time professionals who help local temples create programming for inter-faith families. The reason, it said, was to relieve a $2 million budget deficit.  

An association of 150 Reform rabbis is calling on the Reform movement to reconsider its decision to eliminate the jobs of 13 regional coordinators who provide services to interfaith families.  

A resolution passed early in January by the Pacific Association of Reform Rabbis expressed “deep concern regarding both the content and process of the decision to sunset the Regional Outreach Director positions.” The resolution states that the decision “denies our congregations the critical leadership, experience and support our Regional Outreach Directors provide.”  

Also protesting the cuts is Edmund Case, the publisher of InterfaithFamily.com, who is trying to enlist congregations to support a resolution calling on the UAHC to find ways to reinstate the positions.  

Rabbi Stephen Einstein, who heads the Pacific Association of Reform Rabbis, is also co-chair of the UAHC-Central Conference of American Rabbis Commission on Outreach and Synagogue Communities. He said that, “Prior to making the decision to cut the Regional Directors of Outreach and Synagogue Community ... I would have expected a good deal of consultation to have occurred. Shockingly, such was not the case.”  

According to a 2001 study commissioned by the UAHC on its 20 years of outreach efforts, “It would be difficult to find any Reform congregation in North America that does not count among its leaders, lay or professional, individuals whose path to commitment arose in Outreach.”  

Editorially, The Forward (Jan. 10, 2003) stated that, “The UAHC owes everyone a better explanation than the one it offered for its decision to lay off its corps of regional outreach directors ... The outreach division isn’t just another budget line. It lies at the heart of a vast social experiment in the future of Judaism, one whose stakes go far beyond UAHC headquarters - in fact, beyond the boundaries of Reform Judaism itself. This is everyone’s business.”  

The Forward points out that, “The outreach division is an outgrowth of a series of Reform movement decisions two decades ago to reframe the Jewish community’s discussion of interfaith marriage. Arguing that rising intermarriage rates were a product of unstoppable social forces, Reform leaders called for efforts to bring interfaith families into Judaism instead of freezing them out, as tradition had mandated for centuries. A crucial step in that new strategy was the movement’s 1983 decision, reversing millennia of tradition, to accept children of Jewish fathers and non-Jewish mothers as Jews, provided they were given a Jewish upbringing.”  

This decision outraged Orthodox leaders who declared that they could no longer let their youth socialize with Reform youth, given the uncertainty that the Reform young people were Jewish in traditional terms. The Forward argues that, “Reform leaders have frequently acknowledged the sensitivity of their decision, but insisted it was worth the rancor because it could open the way of keeping thousands of Jewish families within the orbit of Judaism. All that was needed, they assured nervous friends and allies, was sufficient investment in sweat and money in the hard work of bringing Judaism to interfaith families. That work, if it pays off, would prove the rightness of the Reform strategy and effectively justify the bitterness that has followed. But the jury is still out. A great deal of work remains to be done. Pulling back now is simply not acceptable.”

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